News & Insights

New Court Ruling affecting the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
April 10, 2017
by Jennifer ElBenni


On March 22, 2017, the United States Supreme Court in Endrew v. Douglas County examined what level of educational benefit schools are required to provide to children with disabilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act offers states federal funding to assist in educating children with disabilities. Funding under the Act is conditioned on compliance with certain statutory requirements, including the requirement that States provide every eligible child a free appropriate public education, by means of a uniquely tailored “individualized education program” (IEP).

Endrew v. Douglas County, centered on a child with autism and attention deficit disorder. The parents felt their child’s academic and functional progress had stalled and removed the child from public school. After enrolling the child in a private school that specializes in educating children with autism, the child went on to make academic and behavioral progress.

The child’s parents filed an action seeking reimbursement for the private school tuition, alleging that the IEP provided by the public school was inadequate. The lower courts held that a child’s IEP is adequate as long as it is calculated to confer an education benefit that is merely more than de minimis and ultimately found that the child’s IEP had been reasonably calculated to enable him to make some progress.

The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the ‘merely more than de minimis’ test applied by the lower courts for one that is markedly more demanding.  The Supreme Court held that in order for a school district to meet its substantive obligation under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a school must offer an IEP reasonably calculated to enable a child to make progress appropriate in light of the child’s circumstances.  The adequacy of a given IEP is based on the unique circumstances of the child for whom it was created.

The Endrew v. Douglas County decision did not provide a bright-line standard or specific guidance on what “appropriate” progress means, but it did emphasize the importance of ensuring that an IEP is truly individualized, rejecting a one-size-fits-all approach.

This newsletter is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice.